Cut the First Page

Cut the First Page

In a workshop of my story recently, my teacher summed up the comments around the table: "Once we got past the first page, it really started taking off. The first page, however, was a little muddled."

This is not new advice. Going back all the way to one of my very first Intro Creative Writing classes that I took in college, I remember my teacher making a hard and fast rule: "In this class, when you're about to submit, cut the first page and then hand it in." And since then, teachers have repeated it again and again to classes, but it may be the most difficult advice to follow of all. Here are a few reasons why you should consider sticking to this rule and banning that first page from making it to the next draft.

We all start by spinning our wheels.

Everyone, no matter how limber, takes a little time to start a new story or novel chapter. We're not quite sure where we're going, so we test the waters, giving a little setting, a little character, a little conflict, but committing to none of these things strongly. Usually, by the end of the first page a writer has discovered what voice he wants and what direction he wants to go in, and he's really ready to begin. That first page was a necessary bridge to the second page, but once you've gotten to that second page, you can cut the first.

The first page tends not to trust the reader.

Another nervous tendency writers have on their first page is to not trust the reader enough. A writer will start to anxiously over-explain facts or give too much background, assuming that a) the reader has forgotten what happened in the previous chapter or b) the reader is too dumb to understand an implied situation and must have it spelled out explicitly. But the reader is nearly always smarter than the writer initially thinks.

The first page doesn't leap right into the action.

Another mistake that the first page commonly makes is to not leap into the action. Just because we ourselves are warming up in the writing process, we often begin a story with the weather or with a character getting up in the morning and brushing his teeth and eating breakfast. The problem with beginning this way is that these actions are hopelessly generic and don't help to suggest what the story will be about or why we should keep reading. Stories do best when they introduce the problem in the very first page, and preferably in the first paragraph.